What a beauty! The color is black with gorgeous purple and ruby hues around the rim. Jean-Pierre Monier farms all his vines organically and biodynamically, producing an old-school Saint-Joseph on high-altitude slopes above the Rhône river. This Syrah exhibits remarkable purity and grace.
Jean-Pierre Monier is as happy and as grateful a vigneron as one finds. His small production wines certainly have not made him wealthy (far from it), but his effortless calm and quiet conviction give him an enviable air of simplicity. He is the third generation to be farming in Brunieux, a lieu-dit in the hills above the village of St-Désirat in the Northern Rhône. Like his forefathers, wine is only part of his farm’s overall production. Apricot orchards complement the vineyards, and everything is farmed biodynamically. With only five hectares of land, all on high altitude slopes, one might question the interest in working by such stringent standards; for a joyful artisan like Jean-Pierre, purity and authenticity are paramount.
On the wines of the northern Rhône, Kermit wrote in Adventures on the Wine Route, “The best combine a reminder of the sunny Mediterranean with the more self-conscious, intellectual appeal of the great Burgundies farther north, which is not a bad combination.” Like the wines of Provence, Burgundy, and Beaujolais, Kermit was introduced to this region by Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters.
Though technically part of the same region as the southern Rhône and connected by the Rhône River, much differentiates the north from the south. The climate is continental and in general cooler than that Mediterranean climate of the south. The appellations are significantly smaller: Cornas has less than 300 acres planted to vine and Hermitage around 345. The area planted is minute when compared to Gigondas (3,000+ acres) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (nearly 8,000 acres). Many of the great wines come from steep hillside vines—terraced during Roman times. It was clear to the Romans that great wine could be made here and DNA evidence now shows that Syrah is in fact indigenous to the Rhône.
The terroir is predominantly granite and lastly, blends of the wines are mostly single grape varieties. Only four grape varieties are permitted in AOC blends: Syrah, Viogner, Marsanne, and Roussanne (as compared to the 19 permitted varieties allowed in Châteauneuf). The red wines are nearly all Syrah and Condrieu and Château Grillet must be 100% Viogner. The whites of Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Saint Péray, and Crozes-Hermitages may only be blends of Marsanne and Roussanne.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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